Maikel Franco

Phillies' hot prospect J.P. Crawford gets a look at the hot corner

Phillies' hot prospect J.P. Crawford gets a look at the hot corner

SAN FRANCISCO — As the Phillies were getting set to wrap up a West Coast trip against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on Sunday afternoon, a significant piece of news broke back East.

J.P. Crawford, considered the Phillies' shortstop of the future since the day he was selected in the first round of the 2013 draft, started at third base for the Triple A Lehigh Valley IronPigs in their game at Charlotte.

Previously, Crawford had made all 500 of his defensive starts in professional baseball at shortstop. He'd made three starts as a designated hitter.

Crawford, 22, had recently begun to take ground balls at the position before games in Lehigh Valley. He is expected to join the big club for a look-see in September and it would stand to reason that he could take away some at-bats from current third baseman Maikel Franco, who has been inconsistent all season and has struggled recently.

"It's just about versatility," assistant general manager Ned Rice said of the Crawford/third base experiment. "It benefits the player and benefits the team when more guys are able to play multiple positions. It just gives Pete (Mackanin) a lot more options at the big-league level. The more guys we can bring up who have been exposed to different positions, the better. Obviously (Rhys) Hoskins going to left field has enabled him to have more of an opportunity. The fact that (Jorge) Alfaro was able to play first base helped get him in the lineup (Saturday)."

Crawford has had a mixed-bag season at Triple A. He struggled mightily for the first half of the season but has turned it on since July 1, hitting .298 with 11 homers, 27 RBIs, a .392 on-base percentage and a .593 slugging percentage in 45 games. Rice said no decision had been made on whether Crawford would come up in September, but the fact that he must be added to the 40-man roster in November certainly helps his chances.

Crawford's climb to Triple A over the last year has coincided with big-league shortstop Freddy Galvis improving his game. Galvis is a defensive whiz who has hiked his on-base percentage to .310 this season — not great, but certainly better than last season when it was a majors-worst .274. Galvis brings other things offensively. He had 20 homers and 67 RBIs while playing Gold Glove caliber defense last season. He entered Sunday hitting .262 with 11 homers and 52 RBIs. Galvis will be eligible for salary arbitration for the final time this winter and eligible for free agency after next season.

Crawford could still be the guy that succeeds Galvis if the Phillies move him this winter or let him become a free agent after next season, but in the meantime, Crawford could play some third base if he can handle the position. He doesn't have the power that Franco does, but his on-base skills dwarf Franco's. Phillies officials have long been waiting for Franco — he entered Sunday hitting .222 with a .276 on-base percentage — to improve his approach at the plate. Maybe the sight of Crawford playing some third base will light a fire under Franco as the team has made no final judgments on his future.

Crawford is the second highly-regarded prospect to learn some third base this season. Scott Kingery, a second baseman by trade, began taking balls there before games this summer, as well. He could be the team's second baseman sometime next season if the Phils use Cesar Hernandez as a trade chip. He could be an option at third if Franco proves not to be the answer.

Basically, the Phillies are creating options for themselves.

"Going into spring training next year, we want to be able to get a look at guys at different positions," Rice said.

He added that Crawford could even learn to play some second base.

"As (general manager) Matt (Klentak) always says, you need the talent and readiness to meet an opportunity," Rice said. "The more different places you can play, that increases the odds of an opportunity. If he shows he can play multiple positions well, it makes it easier to fit.

"This is similar to Hoskins. We just want to see (Crawford) at different places. It's a fact-finding mission. We'll keep him as versatile as possible. Again, I don't think he'll be the only one."

Tonight's lineup: Odubel Herrera misses 4th straight game, lands on DL

Tonight's lineup: Odubel Herrera misses 4th straight game, lands on DL

Updated: 10:10 p.m.

Odubel Herrera has hit the disabled list.

Herrera, nursing a left hamstring injury, was out of the lineup Friday night for a fourth straight game as the Phillies played Game 2 of their four-game series against the Giants at AT&T Park.

Shortly before first pitch, the Phillies placed Herrera on the 10-day DL. The transaction is retroactive to Aug. 15.

Well before Friday's game, the centerfielder tested his hamstring on the field with an athletic trainer and walked off in not-so-promising fashion, according to CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury.

The test obviously did not produce positive results.

Herrera has hit safely in 17 straight games, a stretch in which he's slashing .379/.431/.636 with three homers, two triples, four doubles and 10 RBIs.

Nick Williams made his fourth straight start in center field. Cameron Perkins got the nod in right field and hit eighth, while Jorge Alfaro was slotted behind the plate to catch Zach Eflin and bat seventh.

Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph were in the fifth and sixth spots, respectively. Both entered Friday struggling mightily. Coming in, Franco was hitting .190 in August with one homer, 11 strikeouts and no walks, while Joseph was 5 for his last 52 (.096) with just one extra-base hit (a double) over that span.

Phillies
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Nick Williams, CF
4. Rhys Hoskins, LF
5. Maikel Franco, 3B
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Jorge Alfaro, C
8. Cameron Perkins, RF
9. Zach Eflin, P

Giants
1. Denard Span, CF
2. Hunter Pence, RF
3. Jarrett Park, LF
4. Buster Posey, C
5. Pablo Sandoval, 3B
6. Brandon Crawford, SS
7. Ryder Jones, 1B
8. Kelby Tomlinson, 2B
9. Matt Moore, P

Phillies-Giants 5 things: Aaron Nola on track to make some more history

phillies-giants-small-stream-slide.jpg

Phillies-Giants 5 things: Aaron Nola on track to make some more history

Phillies (43-75) at Giants (48-74)
10:15 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

After a rather pathetic series in San Diego, the Phillies move on to San Francisco for their final non-NL East road series of the season.

The Giants have had an unbelievably disappointing season, getting very little from key pitchers like Johnny Cueto, Matt Moore and Mark Melancon and key hitters like Brandon Crawford and Hunter Pence.

On most nights, the Giants struggle to score. This is shaping up to be another one of them.

1. Nola night
Aaron Nola's starts have become must-watches over the last two months. He's on a historic run of 10 straight starts with at least six innings pitched and two or fewer runs. 

It's the longest streak in Phillies history, and it's a longer streak than the following pitchers have ever had: Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Sandy Koufax, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Warren Spahn, Nolan Ryan, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Max Scherzer, and countless others.

This is a great matchup for Nola. On top of the Giants' offensive futility, AT&T Park is just an extremely difficult place to hit home runs. There have been just 82 homers hit there this season, which is 23 fewer than any other park and 70 fewer than the league average.

Nola (9-7, 3.02) has faced the Giants only once, last June when he was in the midst of a rough summer. Buster Posey, Denard Span, Crawford and Jarrett Parker went a combined 5 for 9 off of him, but Nola is a much different pitcher these days.

2. Outfield help wanted
The Phillies are in a precarious position heading into San Francisco. They don't know whether Odubel Herrera (hamstring) will be available to start this weekend, and Aaron Altherr remains on the DL with a hamstring injury of his own.

AT&T Park is the most difficult outfield to defend in all of baseball. It's 404 feet to left-center field and 421 feet to right-center. A centerfielder must have above-average range to succeed there.

In right field, there's the high brick wall that a rightfielder must learn. If a ball hits high off the wall and caroms past the rightfielder, it's an inside-the-park home run waiting to happen.

The Phillies cannot expect to play Rhys Hoskins in left field and Hyun Soo Kim in right field and get away with it in this series. Look for them to help Nola out tonight by putting a more experienced outfielder like Cameron Perkins in one of the corners, even though his bat is a liability.

3. Shark attack
The Phillies tonight face 6-foot-5 veteran right-hander Jeff Samardzija, who's having an interesting season. Samardzija is 7-12 with a 4.74 ERA, but he also has 160 strikeouts and just 23 walks in 155⅔ innings. Roy Halladay had only one season with a better K/BB ratio.

The issue usually with Samardzija is that he throws a lot of hittable pitches early in counts because he hates falling behind hitters. Two seasons ago, he allowed the most hits, earned runs and home runs in the league. And yet he's still regarded as a very good pitcher because on a pitch-by-pitch basis, he can be tough to solve.

Samardzija, like pretty much any pitcher who goes to San Fran, has been much better at home than on the road. He has a 4.35 ERA at AT&T Park and has allowed 0.79 home runs per nine innings. On the road, he has a 5.05 ERA and has allowed 1.65 home runs per nine.

Samardzija has faced the Phillies 10 times in his career but his numbers (26 runs in 27 innings) are immaterial because no current Phillie has ever faced him.

Samardzija has six different pitches: sinker, slider, four-seam fastball, curveball, cutter and splitter. His sinker and fastball average about 95 mph. A right-handed hitter rarely knows what's coming on the first pitch — Samardzija has thrown four different pitches at least 17 percent of the time on the first pitch.

4. Nothing from the corners
Any major-league team needs offense from first base and third base. That has been true as long as this game has been around. They're both premium offensive positions where you typically see a power hitter.

The Phillies have gotten so little this season, especially lately, from their corner infielders. Maikel Franco is hitting .223 and his .276 on-base percentage and is 70th out of 71 National League players. (Only Brandon Crawford is worse.)

In August, Franco has hit .186 with one home run and zero walks. Franco has 17 home runs, but it seems like everyone in the majors has 17 home runs this season. There are 89 players with more home runs than Franco this year, so the 17 homers are little solace.

Tommy Joseph is hitting .102 in 49 at-bats since Aug. 2. Combined, the two of them have two home runs in their last 190 plate appearances.

5. This and that
• I dug up a depressing stat Wednesday on the Phillies' struggles this season against bad starting pitchers. Clayton Richard, Brandon Finnegan, Martin Perez, Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Anderson, J.C. Ramirez, Edinson Volquez, Adam Conley, Tim Adleman, Patrick Corbin and Ricky Nolasco have a 0.93 ERA vs. the Phils this season. They have a collective 5.22 ERA against the rest of baseball.

• The Giants' disastrous season hasn't affected Posey, who is having another dynamic season, hitting .316/.406/.473 with his typically elite defense.

• The Phillies' 6-20 record against the NL West is the worst record by any major-league team against any division this season.

• After sending Nick Pivetta to Triple A after his start Wednesday, the Phillies called up shortstop Pedro Florimon. Florimon, 30, will be available off the Phillies' bench tonight.